Burundi’s army has captured scores of gunmen and killed others in two days of clashes in the north, a regional governor said on Sunday, the latest flare-up of violence in a nation that emerged from civil war in 2005.
A rebel general, who was involved in a failed coup attempt in May, told Reuters this week he and his comrades were mobilising forces to topple President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has triggered a political crisis by seeking a third term in office.
General Leonard Ngendakumana told French radio on Friday, when the first clashes were reported in north Burundi, his loyalists were involved.
The army could not immediately be reached for comment.
The fighting is an alarming development in a region with a history of conflict, often fuelled by ethnic divisions. But an official said the latest fighting did not follow ethnic divides. The United States has condemned the violence and urged dialogue.
“About 100 gunmen are in the hands of the army forces,” said Anselme Nsabimana, governor of Cibitoke province, which borders both Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“There is no more fighting in Cibitoke. It’s calm,” he told Reuters, adding rebels were also killed without giving numbers.
“The gunmen are composed of all ethnic groups and are from different provinces of Burundi,” the governor said, adding that many were from the capital Bujumbura, the scene of weeks of protests against Nkurunziza.
Details of the fighting were not clear, but residents said gunmen initially fought in Kayanza province on Friday, then withdrew into forests before the army clashed with them on Saturday in neighbouring Cibitoke.
The Kayanza governor said on Saturday the gunmen had crossed into Burundi from Rwanda, a charge Kigali denied.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said Burundi found it “convenient to find responsibility elsewhere”.
Opponents of Nkurunziza say his re-election bid is unconstitutional. The president cites a constitutional court ruling saying he can run again. The election is due on July 21.
His critics say he is undermining the Arusha pact that ended Burundi’s civil war. It set a two-term limit, as well as quotas for ethnic groups in state institutions to heal the rifts.
In the war, rebel groups of the Hutu majority fought the army which was led at the time by minority Tutsi commanders. Nkurunziza, who has mixed parents, led a Hutu force.
Burundi’s crisis has so far been a power struggle that crossed ethnic divides, but diplomats say an upsurge in violence could re-open ethnic wounds.
Rwanda, with the same ethnic mix as Burundi, suffered a genocide in 1994 in which 800,000 mostly Tutsis, as well as moderate Hutus, were butchered.